An extension for enrollment?

Q. I heard that the enrollment period for the Medicare drug benefit might be extended past May 15, 2006. Is that true?
A. Under current law, people on Medicare have until May 15 to sign up for a Medicare prescription drug plan for 2006. For drug coverage in 2007 and beyond, the enrollment period will run from Nov. 15 through Dec. 31 of each year.
Some people think that it would be a good idea to extend the enrollment period beyond May 15 to give seniors more time to sort through their Medicare drug plan options and choose a plan that is most likely to meet their needs.
An extension would also help to protect people on Medicare from paying the premium penalty for late enrollment. Under current law, Medicare beneficiaries who do not sign up by May 15 could face a premium penalty for every month they delay enrollment, if they decide to sign up for a Medicare drug plan in the future.
Because the May 15 deadline was set by law, Congress would need to pass a law to extend the deadline beyond that date. While some Members of Congress have proposed making this change, no action has been taken. For now, lawmakers are monitoring Medicare drug plan enrollment and waiting to see what happens in the next month or two before deciding whether to move forward on legislation that would extend the enrollment period, or eliminate the premium penalty for this year, or both.
In the meantime, if you want to enroll in a Medicare prescription drug plan this year, it is probably a good idea to make a decision sooner rather than later, especially if you do not have drug coverage. Enrolling in a plan could help you save money on your drug expenses. Lawmakers may decide to extend the deadline beyond May 15, but there is no guarantee this will happen.
This column was prepared by the Kaiser Family Foundation, an independent, nonprofit private foundation based in Menlo Park, Calif., not affiliated with the Kaiser Permanente health plan. Send questions about the new Medicare drug benefit to Medicare Q & amp;A, The Kaiser Family Foundation, 1330 G St., N.W., Washington, DC 20005 or

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